Curse You, IT (Or, Struggles with Technology)

I love technology.

I know that there are disadvantages to using technology in the classroom. Your projector breaks right before a lesson that revolves around video clips. You open up the laptop cart only to realize that none of the computers have been plugged in for the past three weeks -- and your students are walking into the classroom right now. Your students discover that a class-wide Google Docs account is the perfect tool for writing anonymous "deez nuts" comments on each other's playwriting projects. (Deez Nuts for President in 2016. Rise up and take action, my fellow Americans.) I've struggled through all of these worst case scenarios.

And yet, I still love technology.

But the IT firm that services our school network has spent this year doing EVERYTHING IN THEIR POWER to squash that love with their bureaucratically red-taped fists. All of our devices -- Chromebooks, PCs, and iPads -- are serviced by this one IT firm, and everything is required to go through them. Any software, applications, even font packages need to be installed by them. So you email them a request and then sit back to wait for a week (or longer), while they decide whether or not they're going to fulfill your tech request. Obviously, there are problems with this system. I needed a stop motion animation app installed on the iPads for my eighth grade filmmaking classes. We could not move forward without access to this app. My students were getting frustrated. I was getting frustrated. Filmmaking classes weren't going well.

So I downloaded the stop motion animation app onto my cell phone. I just wanted my students to have the chance to try it out and understand the challenges of this particular medium. (After a few minutes with the app, one of my students declared: "Ms. Chatfield, this is going to be a lot of work." My response: "Yes. That's what I told you on the first day of class. But everyone in here insisted that they wanted to do stop motion animation anyway. We took a vote, remember?" When my students realized that this had been THEIR choice, they stopped complaining and got back to work. Behold: the power of student choice.) Even though my cell phone has a broken camera that's perpetually out-of-focus, my students powered through and shot an eighteen-second test sequence of Lego minifigs walking across our cardboard forest.

I was super-proud of them for rolling with the punches and making the best of a discouraging situation -- but why are we even having this issue? When I received a major classroom grant from Voya Financial earlier this year (Thanks, Voya!), one of my first purchase requests was for MacBook Pros -- and AppleCare Protection Plans for each one of them. There's no way that my laptops are going to be serviced by our network's IT firm. I need to be able to install software -- like Virtual Light Lab and Finale Notebook and Final Cut Pro -- at a moment's notice. To act like I'm incapable of installing my own software feels a whole lot like not trusting me. Or thinking that I'm technologically illiterate. (Neither of which are true.)

This isn't the first time this year that I've struggled with trust issues and technology usage. During the first quarter, we were required to install a web filtering software. While I'm not a huge proponent of blocking content (which can border on academic censorship), I understand that you can't have students surfing PornHub when they're supposed to be watching TED Talks. The problem is that the web filtering software doesn't just affect the student laptops; it affects the staff laptops as well. All of a sudden, I couldn't search Google Images at work. My YouTube account blocked "objectionable content." I couldn't access any social media sites. I started leaving work right at the end of the school day because I could only read the "unapproved" articles that I needed for lesson planning at home.

Our operations team has done an incredible job making the web filter more functional. (Best School in the World!) But those first few weeks were a frustrating reminder of how so much of the education sector functions. We make teachers jump through hoops to get the materials that they need to manage their classrooms.* We micro-manage their work because, despite the fact that we rubber-stamped their state certifications, we don't trust them enough to educate our children. We approach seasoned professionals (all of whom have masters degrees in New York State) in the same way that we approach disobedient adolescents. We lambast our teachers for not closing the achievement gap -- but we block them from success at every available opportunity.

Our educators deserve a little bit more trust and respect. We also deserve the right to install our own apps on the iPads. Just saying.

* Our school doesn't have this problem. If you need anything -- from a class set of books to laboratory materials, our school will get them for you in 48 hours or less. (Thanks, Amazon Prime!) All you have to do is send a purchase request via email to the office manager. The whole process takes a few minutes at most. I just wanted to put that out there because I know that I'm #soblessed. However, many teachers are not as lucky as I am.

Day Five (31 Days of Trip Planning): Reached out to The Company (co-led by Jose Miguel Jimenez, a SEEDS alumnus)

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